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Lesson Plans

What students need to know about midterms

October 29, 2014

Full Lesson


Are your students confused about what midterm elections mean for the country? Use our answers below as a primer on what to expect Nov. 4.

What are the midterm elections?
The midterm elections occur once every four years at the mid-point of a presidential term. The elections decide who will represent the states in the U.S. House of Representatives and the U.S. Senate, as well as in many state governments.

Who runs for office in the midterms?
One-third of the Senate and every member of the House of Representatives runs for office in this election. Many states also hold elections for their local government and governor.

In the House, which has 435 seats, Republicans hold a majority 242 seats and Democrats hold 193 seats. Of the Senate’s 100 seats, Democrats hold the majority, with 51 seats and 2 independents who caucus with them, and Republicans hold 47 seats.

What will happen in this year’s midterms?
The sitting president’s party usually suffers a loss in the midterm elections, which means bad news for Democrats this year.

This year, the focus is on the Senate, where most experts predict that control will shift from Democrats to Republicans. Some media organizations, like the Washington Post, have set the chance for Republican winning the Senate at over 90 percent. An article in The New York Times states that Republicans have a 69 percent chance of winning the Senate. Election analysts are also predicting that Republicans will continue to be the majority in the House.

Can I vote?
If you are over 18, you can. Some states allow citizens to pre-register to vote before the age of 18 so that they are automatically eligible to vote when they turn 18. In seven states, 16-year-olds can pre-register, and in eight states, 17-year-olds can do the same. Check here to find out the law in your state.

Why should I vote?
Because young voters can turn an election one way or the other. In 2012, 61 percent of youth voters chose President Obama in Florida, Virginia, Pennsylvania, and Ohio, all swing states whose election outcomes had a huge impact.

The problem? Young voters typically don’t vote. Young voter turnout is usually lower than the general population. Of voters between 18 and 29 years old, only 24 percent voted in the last midterm election in 2010, which means that for every young person who voted, three did not. But voting is a great way to make your voice heard in a democracy and can help influence important decisions in your community.

Have more questions?
Send them to the NewsHour, and participate in Thursday’s Twitter chat at 1 pm EST. Check #NewsHourChats on Twitter at that time for more.

Find out more about the races to watch this election.

Media literacy education

What is media literacy?

Media literacy is the ability to access, evaluate and create all types of media, including news media.

All of NewsHour Classroom's resources contain lessons in media literacy, including questions like who produced the piece and what do you know about them?

Start by evaluating this video introducing NewsHour Classroom here.